Russian Dreams: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

Susan D. Russell
“We kind of want to leave everybody in our dust this season. That’s the plan.” – Scott Moir

They speak with supreme confidence about conquering the World once again and filling one last void in their most impressive résumé.

And yes, maybe even a second run at the biggest prize of them all. But the fact they can finally set sail in all those directions without encountering the choppy waters that have made the last few years so utterly difficult at times ... that’s the thought that has Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir especially enthused at the moment.

“It’s nice to be in September and to feel like we are right on track with how we see the season progressing,” Virtue, 22, of London, Ont. told IFS. “I feel strong and healthy and I think our training is where it should be, which is cool. We haven’t experienced that for such a long time. I have been telling Scott that I just feel lucky to be able to train again.”

To fully appreciate the depth and breadth of that sentiment, one needs to wind back the clock to the autumn of 2010 when, for the second time in three years, Virtue underwent surgery to release tension in two soft-tissue compartments in her legs. While it was deemed necessary to end the pain that afflicted her on the way to Olympic and World gold earlier that year, it also virtually scuttled their 2010-11 season.

Essentially, the campaign for the three-time Canadian champions came down to one event — the 2011 World Championships. And while Virtue and Moir performed admirably, they couldn’t match the performance of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, their training mates in Canton, Mich. Still, given the shortened season, Virtue and Moir savored their second career World silver.

“We were really proud of our result, considering the year that we had,” said Moir, 24, of Ilderton, Ont. “But as an athlete, you don’t want to put yourself in that position. It’s more fun to compete a lot. You learn so much at every competition and build your programs. I always feel like we get these amazing programs, and we want to be able to take them as far as we can and really build them. That only comes with practice, training and competing, and getting feedback from the judges and skating community.”

Soon enough, however, that warm feeling gave way to pondering the World title they had lost. And their determination was steeled to get it back.

“When you’re a competitive athlete, you want to win every competition,” Moir said. “There’s no doubt that we wanted to win (in Moscow), but after everything we went through last year ... we were proud of our second place. We train beside Charlie and Meryl, so we know how hard they work and we know how much of an edge in training they had on us last year with Tessa’s injury. So we were happy for them and proud of them, and we were happy to come second to them.

“But at the same time, we want the title back more than anything, and that’s what we’re building toward.”

Virtue said she left Russia feeling satisfied and happy with the accomplishment. “That was a good feeling, and I think, looking ahead to this year, maybe it was good for us because now we’re hungry again and have something to fight for. We feel like we’re coming in and we have something to prove.”

Virtue and Moir enter the new season — slated to begin on home soil at Skate Canada in late October — armed with two new programs. The free dance is to music from “Funny Face,” the 1957 hit musical which starred Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire.

The short dance, however, might sound a little familiar. Virtue and Moir had the music from last season’s Latin-themed free dance recut with completely revamped choreography.

“None of the choreography is the same, none of the moves are the same, so it’s completely different,” Moir explained. “It’s like training a new program.”

With those vehicles ready to roll, Virtue and Moir fully intend to reassert themselves as the finest ice dance team on the planet. Along the way, they hope to snare gold at the Grand Prix Final in Québec City — the only event of significance they’ve never won.

“There are not too many competitions that we go into anymore that we shouldn’t win, we think,” Moir said. “It’s always the goal, to win, and if everything goes well this year, we’re going to put ourselves in position to win and we should win everything, I think. So it should be great.

“We’re really excited about this year and really excited about the possibility of a healthy season.”

While the duo are officially sticking with the year-by-year approach to their competitive future, they leave little doubt a second Olympic Games could well be in their future. There is also the matter of the 2013 World Championships, which are scheduled to take place in London, Ont. If they get that far it might be too tempting to ignore the lure of a potential second Olympic Winter gold in 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

“We’d be lying if we said we didn’t want to do another Games at this point,” Moir admitted. “The experience in Vancouver was probably the best of our lives. No one expects Russia will be that intimate a Games for us because 2010 was a home Games, and it had a completely different feeling. But I think that’s the reason we probably would like to experience another Olympics and see what the Games are like away from home.

“As an athlete, especially as an ama- teur athlete, I wish I could do six more Olympics, but we do have to look at it on a year-to-year basis. Definitely, I would like to go to Sochi, but there are stepping stones we will have to cross to get there.”

Virtue felt the tug recently when she heard Canadian crooner k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah” — a song she performed at the opening ceremony in Vancouver — pop up on her iPod.

“I got quite emotional,” she said. “I hadn’t heard it since the opening ceremony, and it just gave me goose bumps. It was such an Olympic moment that as soon as the song was over, I almost thought, ‘I have to compete in Sochi, there’s no ques- tion about it.’ It’s funny how that brought me right back to Vancouver.

“But that being said, we’re trying to take a little bit of the pressure off, and mentally, it’s so much better for us to think just one year at a time. Of course it’s in the back of our minds, and having had the time we had in Vancouver, it’s hard not to want to compete at another Olympics.

"But we’ve also learned that so much can change at the drop of a hat. So I think just leaving it open is better for us and healthier, for sure.”

Originally published in December 2011